16 top fitness experts share their go-to move for slim, sculpted hips and thighs
A toned inner thigh is a healthy inner thigh — attractive and strong. Show yours some love with these 16 inner-thigh exercises to get shapely legs.
WATCH COMPLETE WORKOUT ON THE VIDEO AT THE END OF THE PAGE
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This exercise provides a unique training stimulus for the lower body that will shape your glutes and thighs from every angle, says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, strength coach and owner of JKConditioning.
To do it: Stand with feet much wider than shoulder width, arms relaxed by sides. Squat as deep as possible to the left, while turning right toes up, flexing right foot (right leg remains straight and torso leans slightly forward to maintain balance). Extend arms straight out from shoulders. Return to the starting position and perform on the opposite side to complete one rep. Do 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Criss-Cross Power Jacks
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This move effectively targets the inner-thigh muscles while also engaging your whole body and increasing heart rate (meaning more calories burned!), says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at the American Council On Exercise.
To do it: Stand with feet together and take a deep breath in. As you exhale, jump feet out wide and cross arms overhead. From there, scissor legs, crossing left leg in front of right, as left arm crosses over right at chest level. Immediately repeat, alternating sides each time.
Matthews recommends using this move as part of a circuit, completing the exercise for 30 to 45 seconds before transitioning to the next strength move.
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You don’t need much time to shape your legs, especially the inner thighs, with this low-impact move from Barre3 instructor Sadie Lincoln, star of the Element: Barre Conditioning DVD.
To do it: Stand forearms distance away from a sturdy chair or countertop, holding on lightly with right hand. Step feet hip-distance apart, toes pointed straight ahead. Place a soft, small ball (or similar sized pillow) between inner thighs. With left hand on hip, lift heels, balancing on balls of feet. Bend knees and lower about an inch (imagine back is sliding down an imaginary wall). Press inner thighs into the ball, keeping shoulders stacked over hips, hips stacked over ankles, and core tight.
Raise hips back up and bring left arm overhead, squeezing the ball with inner thighs. Lower an inch to repeat. Do 30 reps, and then turn around to repeat on other side.
Tree Lean to Side Lunge
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“I love this exercise because not only does it target the inner thighs, but it also works your core, hips, and the entire lower body,” says Michelle Dozois, certified fitness instructor and owner of Breakthru Fitness. “It works the muscles dynamically while increasing strength, range of motion, and endurance.”
To do it: Stand tall with feet together and arms overhead. Laterally flex the spine so that arms and shoulders reach left while hips sway right.
Sweep arms up and over, making a half circle down toward the right as left leg steps out into a side lunge. Land in a deep side lunge with left hand resting on thigh, right hand touching the floor. Push off the floor and circle arms back overhead to return to lateral lean as left foot returns to right. Do 10 reps; repeat on opposite side.
Scissor Legs Plank
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In addition to targeting the inner thighs, supporting the scissor movement in this exercise forces your arms, chest, core, and glutes to engage, says Kim Truman, athletic trainer and owner of Kim Truman Fitness.
To do it: Begin in a full plank position with each foot on a folded towel, paper plate, or gliding disc. Keeping upper body stable, slide feet apart, opening legs as wide as possible, and then slowly squeeze inner thighs to slide feet back together. Do 2 sets of 15 reps, resting in between sets as needed.
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The frog bend is an ideal exercise for when you’re short on time or traveling because you only use gravity for resistance—no equipment necessary, says Vera Musgrove, star of the Shazzy Fitness: In the Beginning DVD.
To do it: Lie faceup with legs extended straight over hips, feet flexed, heels together, and toes turned out.
Slowly bend knees out to the sides, and then straighten, using your inner-thigh muscles to control the movement. Do 3 sets of 12 reps, resting in between each set as needed.
Squeeze and Lift
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The small range of motion in this isolated movement makes it a great option for people with very weak inner-thigh muscles or those dealing with a groin injury, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University. Plus, it’s easy to learn and you can do it just about anywhere.
To do it: Place a small ball between ankles (can be a soft weighted ball, air-filled ball, or medicine ball, but softer balls are more comfortable), and lie on right side, supporting head with bent right arm. Bend top arm and press hand on the floor in front of chest to help stabilize body. Squeeze inner thighs to secure ball. Lengthen legs and then press bottom leg up toward top to lift both legs about 6 inches off the ground. Hold for 5 counts. Do 10 reps; repeat on opposite side.
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If you want to reduce the size of your thighs and look more toned, then your goal is really fat loss since you can’t spot reduce, says Nick Tumminello, certified strength coach and owner of Performance University. To maximize fat loss and sculpt sexy legs (i.e. tighten your inner thighs), your best bet is to use exercises that recruit multiple muscles like barbell squats (demonstrated here by IFBB Figure Pro Maggy Cambronero), Tumminello says. “The more muscles you work, the more calories you burn.”
To do it: Place a barbell across shoulders (not on top of your neck) and stand with feet just wider than shoulder width, toes turned out 10 to 15 degrees. Bend at knees and hips, lowering body as close to the floor as possible (heels should not lift off the ground and lower back should not lose its arch). Keep knees wide and tracking in the same direction as toes to avoid letting knees drop in toward the midline of body. Reverse the motion and stand up. Do 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
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Use this move from certified trainer Sara Haley, creator of the Daily Sweat DVD series, to tighten up your inner thighs and get your heart pumping (i.e. burn major calories!).
To do it: Stand with feet wide, knees and toes pointed out, reaching hands down to the floor. Squat down as low as possible while keeping chest lifted and knees tracking over toes.
Jump up in the air and rotate body a quarter turn to the right while bringing feet together, swinging arms overhead to help propel body up. Land in a deep squat, facing right side of the room. Continue to complete a full rotation. Repeat as many times as possible for 1 minute, then repeat to the left.
“This sequence should make you breathless, so use 20 to 40 seconds to recover properly before doing it again (or doing another exercise),” Haley says.
Pilates Side Splits
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This Pilates exercise is typically done on the reformer, but without springs to assist the movement, this standing version challenges your body even more, says certified Pilates instructor Christine Bullock. “It’s a superior inner-thigh exercise because it requires the entire inner thigh to perform the main movement of drawing the legs together,” she says.
To do it: Stand with feet hip distance and parallel. Place a gliding disc or hand towel under right foot. Extend arms straight out from shoulders, palms forward. Slide right leg to side, opening legs apart wide (2 to 4 feet). Press into left foot and use inner thighs to draw right leg back to start, keeping legs straight. Do 15 reps; repeat on opposite side.
Forward Lunge to Single-Leg Deadlift
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The primary role of the inner-thigh muscle is to flex and extend the femur (thigh bone) while walking—when the leg is in front of the body the inner thighs create extension, when the leg is behind the body they create flexion. This exercise is excellent for targeting those muscles, along with the hamstrings and glutes, says Pete McCall, certified personal trainer at Function First in San Diego. It uses the inner-thigh muscles the way they’re designed to be used and enhances tone without increasing size (hypertrophy) of the muscle fibers, he says.
To do it: With arms by sides, step right foot forward, lowering into a lunge. Shift weight into right leg and stand up, balancing on right leg with left knee bent.
Extend left leg back while right knee bends slightly, hinging forward from hips (body should almost make a straight line from left heel to head). Immediately swing left leg forward into a lunge and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps, resting 30 to 45 seconds after each set.
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Certified Pilates instructor Lisa Johnson loves this thigh-toning move because it’s nearly impossible to cheat! “Because of the roundness of the ball, you have to ‘clamp’ down in the right way, which ensures that you’re really focusing on the inner thigh,” she says. “I also love that you never get too strong for it—just squeeze harder and you’ll keep feeling the training effects.”
To do it: Place a squishy ball or pillow between your legs and lie on your side, arm cradling head and knees bent. Inhale and on the exhale, press the top knee down with force into the ball and hold for 4 counts. Inhale to release. Do 12 to 15 reps; repeat on the other side.
Side-Lying Double Leg Lifts
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In this variation on traditional side-lying leg lifts, the top leg acts as resistance when lifting the bottom leg, says Nicole Nichols, editor and fitness expert for SparkPeople.com. You’ll work the inner thighs of both legs while also targeting the outer thighs and obliques, she adds.
To do it: Lie on one side with body in a straight line, bottom arm extended to support head and neck, legs stacked with knees and toes pointing directly forward. Place top hand on floor in front of chest for light support, pull belly in tight, and squeeze inner thighs together.
Keeping legs glued together, slowly lift them off of the mat, hinging from the hip (lift only as high as possible while keeping legs together, hips stationary, and knees and toes pointing directly forward). Hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly lower to hovering above floor (don’t touch it!) and repeat. Do 1 to 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps on each side.
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An added bonus of this inner-thigh toner? It’s a safe and effective way to build strength during pregnancy, says Elizabeth Ordway, founder of Movement Studio in Los Angeles.
To do it: Lie on right side, supporting head with bottom arm bent. Bend top leg and place foot firmly on the mat in front of bottom leg, holding on to ankle for support. Point bottom foot and lift leg up high.
In a swooping motion, trace a circle with lifted leg (lift up each time to initiate the circle and target the inner thigh more). “Imagine you are drawing circles on the back wall, lengthening the inner thigh, and keep abs pulled in tight and torso stable,” Ordway says. Do 10 to 20 circles in each direction, and then switch sides and repeat.
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Any single-leg exercise performed through a full range of motion (thighs below parallel) while standing is great for your inner thighs, but lunges are my personal favorite, says Amanda Russell, certified personal trainer. Unlike non-functional movements like you’d do on the seated adductor machine, your inner-thigh muscles have more than one function during lunges. Plus, you get the added bonus of working your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and core, resulting in more calories burned both during and after exercise, Russell says.
To do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms by sides. Keeping chest lifted and back straight, take a large step forward (about 3 feet) with the right foot and lower into a lunge until front thigh is parallel to floor. Push off right foot to return to start. For best results, Russell recommends 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps on each leg performed two to three times per week.
Inner-Thigh Inside Piques
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This ballet-inspired move from certified trainer Teri Jory, Ph.D., strengthens and tones your inner-thighs while also increasing extension and flexion in your opposite hip. This makes it easier for your hips and knees to flex, rotate, and elongate like they’re designed to do without pain or injury.
To do it: Stand with feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, holding onto a chair or wall for support (if needed). Extend right leg and cross it over to left side of body, squeezing inner thighs and rotating heel up. Shift left hip to the side as far as possible and then begin the piques: raise right foot up as high as possible and then quickly touch toes to the ground (try only tapping the baby toe on the floor if possible). Do 10 reps; repeat on opposite side (for best results, Jory recommends working up to 50 reps per side).
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